February 7, 2017:Deezer talks artist marketing, Metallica and going ‘beyond the playlist’

From Pandora’s Artist Marketing Platform (AMP) to Spotify’s efforts with superfan emails, artist marketing is becoming an important part of music-streaming services’ partnerships with the music industry.

Deezer is no exception. In September 2016 it appointed its latest VP of artist marketing: former Sony BMG, Live Nation and WholeWorldBand exec Sulinna Ong.

She’s now responsible for Deezer’s marketing partnerships with artists and labels, including its recently-launched Deezer Next campaign to promote emerging artists.

“In the past, it’s been up to the individual editors to find and champion new artists and add their songs to the playlists,” Ong tells Music Ally. “That’s a valuable service, and it will continue, but we realise that as good as editorial support is to emerging artists, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.”

This isn’t the first campaign of its type – Spotify launched its Spotlight initiative in 2013 and ran it annually until 2016 – but Ong says she has been working hard to ensure Deezer Next plays to her service’s strengths.

“I didn’t want to choose a list of 10 to 20 global acts that everyone would work. The focus for Deezer is to always ensure we have localised content: that our local content teams are empowered to seek out what’s best for their market,” says Ong.

Instead, Deezer has chosen three artists for a global Next push – Rag’n’Bone Man, Anne Marie and Maggie Rogers – with up to nine more local acts chosen in each of the territories where the campaign is running.

Ong stresses that the local artists are a mixture of major, independent and unsigned acts. For example, in the UK and Ireland, the chosen nine are Barns Courtney, Jay Prince, Lady Leshurr, Pumarosa, Ray BLK, Raye, The Academic, The Amazons and Tom Misch.

Deezer Next

“We’ve been working with The Academic in Ireland for a while now, and they’re unsigned. Jay Prince is unsigned, and we have two Kobalt acts on there too,” says Ong.

Yes, there are artists who are signed to majors and have all the support that majors can provide them with, but we also wanted to work with artists who are with independent labels, and also those who have chosen to remain unsigned. That’s important to us.” Unsigned artist Ash Kid is an example on the French Deezer Next lineup.

What is artist marketing on a music-streaming service? Some aspects are already familiar: four or five-song live performances and video interviews, for example. Others are more bespoke to particular platforms: Pandora’s AMP has its audio messages, while Spotify has its email-based campaigns.

Ong explains how Deezer sees its role. “We’re working closely with the artists and their teams to understand who the artist is, and tell that story to our users. People care and connect to an artist when they know their story. That’s what turns people into fans,” she says.

“It’s looking beyond the playlist to that narrative that grows the emotional connection. Why do you care about the artists that you like? It’s not just the music, it’s everything around that: their aesthetics, their fashion, their personality.”

“Why do people love Adele? It’s not just the music. What’s always been the challenge for artists and their teams when it comes to breaking an act is being able to establish that story. We’re looking at personality-led pieces: some artists are great on camera and others are more introverted, but everyone has a story behind the music.”

With that in mind, Ong and her colleagues will sit down with the teams around the Deezer Next artists, and plan out campaigns stretching over months rather than weeks, weaving them around the key releases of tracks and albums, but also around their global touring schedule.

Metallica, for example, started working with Deezer for the release of their ‘Hardwired… to Self-Destruct’ album in November 2016.

Initially, that included working with the band’s label on an online logo generator, for fans to create their own logos using Metallica’s design, as well as mining Deezer’s data on where the keenest Metallica fans lived in France, and targeting a billboard campaign at those areas.

“But it’s a long campaign, and actually we’re still running it. They’re on tour in Copenhagen and we’re sending their top fans to the show to meet the band, and we’re recording some of that show to be released later this year on Deezer,” says Ong.

“We had the album, the back catalogue, we had the live shows and another live release of tracks from the tour. It was a really holistic campaign looking at every element: playlisting, video interviews, social media, CRM, a Facebook acquisition campaign, and digital spend.”

Longer-term digital marketing campaigns is a much bigger trend than Deezer, of course. Labels and managers alike have known for some time that if the campaign around an album is bunched up around its release date, it will struggle to drive streams months down the line.

Music marketing in 2017 is about getting people to discover and play an artist’s music all year round, rather than simply driving them to buy it in the week of release. That presents challenges – a label’s team may be working six albums at once rather than finishing one project then moving on to the next. But tackling those challenges pays off.

The marketing campaigns can’t just be based on the release dates of a single or an album: that hot flash of release week then it dies away. How do we sustain streams and engagement throughout the year, for a longer period of time?” says Ong.

“That means sitting down in advance, having streaming at the centre of the plan, and then weaving it along the major touchpoints that the label has along the release of the music. It’s about creating the right assets, and having an authentic story and a reason to keep coming back to people to talk about the music six, seven, eight months later.”

“And every time we go back to have that conversation: what are we showing them, and why would they care? We need to figure out what turns a casual listener into a fan.”

The challenge for Deezer is that artist marketing is an increasingly competitive field. All the streaming services want access to artists – emerging acts and established stars alike – and there are plenty of other demands on those artists’ time.

With 10 million active users, Deezer is half the size of Apple Music, an eighth the size of Pandora and a tenth the size of Spotify: yet it’s competing with those services, to some extent, for time and effort from artists.

Sulinna Ong of Deezer

Getting in early with unsigned and independent acts is a smart strategy, but how else is Deezer trying to ensure that it stands out from the crowd, rather than just getting essentially the same live sessions and interviews as rivals?

“That is an excellent question, and it’s one that I ask myself every day when we’re looking at these campaigns and having time with artists: what are we going to do that makes us stand out from the crowd? Artists are incredibly busy, and having that time with them is precious,” says Ong.

“One thing to our advantage is that we can be more creative. We’re more agile. We’re looking at talking to artists, figuring out who they are and what makes them tick, and then crafting individual plans or content that fit with that.”

She also points to Deezer’s parallel business in podcasts and original content – “is there an artist who would be interested in doing a cooking podcast?” – as well as suggesting that partnerships like Deezer’s recent tie-ups with Manchester United and FC Barcelona can alse come in to play.

“I look at everything we have at our disposal in the company, as well as everything we do outside it, that we can really leverage and pull in. There will always be the fundamental foundational pieces – the social media, the Facebook live broadcasts and really pushing the interactive side of social, as well as CRM – but we’ll consider all options,” she says, adding that so far, labels and artists have been responding well to Deezer’s approach.

“I feel incredibly lucky: we’re at a point here now with the technology and with the business where people are realising the importance of streaming – 45bn audio streams in 2016 and that’s just going to grow – and are wanting to experiment and being willing to be creative.”

Stuart Dredge
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